This article about the mathematics department at the University of Rochester credits much of their recent success to an online homework system developed by two U of R professors.
Any system that results in 80 percent of undergraduates taking calculus, without any requirement to do so, bears looking into.
I wish they'd had WeBWork when I was at the University of Rochester! However, since it was developed in 1995, and yet Janet never experienced it when she was there several years later, I'm guessing that they must not have it for the more advanced classes where I could really have used it. I don't see it working well for analyzing proofs. Nonetheless, there is great potential there for introductory classes in many fields, and I hope the open courseware movement will quickly adopt the WeBWork system.
The program, called WeBWorK, was developed by Professors Michael Gage and Arnold Pizer in 1995 to help them give better and more timely feedback to students on calculus homework. Instead of handing out hundreds of identical homework assignments, professors assign homework via WeBWorK and the software customizes the problems for each student. No two students receive the same problems, so copying answers is not an issue, but more importantly, the program gives students real-time feedback on whether their solutions are correct. Gage and Pizer found that with such instant feedback, students try again and again at a problem, seeking the help of fellow students to understand the concepts that will lead to the correct solution.
The program has proven such a success that it has been adopted by more than 100 schools and universities around the country, with more than 100,000 mathematics students checking their homework every week, says Ravenel. A study at Rutgers University in 2002 showed that students who used WeBWorK fared far better on tests and in the mathematics course overall when they used WeBWorK for their homework.
The National Science Foundation has invested more than $2.5 million to help support the development and implementation of WeBWorK, and recently the Mathematics Association of America took over administration of WeBWorK to help spread it to more institutions and students.